Lesotho + 5 more

More than US$ 500 million urgently needed to avert starvation in southern Africa

Originally published
NEW YORK - The UN World Food Programme today launched a massive appeal to provide emergency relief food to six countries in southern Africa, where millions of people are threatened with starvation over the next nine months.
The agency is asking for US$507 million to fund close to one million tonnes of food, enough to feed 10.2 million people until the next main harvest in March 2003. WFP - which has been providing emergency food aid in the region since last year - has only one-quarter of the food it needs for the next three months.

"This is WFP's largest emergency operation but it needs donations to succeed and those donations are needed now," said James T. Morris, Executive Director of WFP. "Southern Africa is already facing an extremely severe crisis, which will only worsen in the coming months. However, it is still possible for the international community to avert a catastrophe by responding rapidly to this appeal."

The humanitarian crisis - which affects Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland - is the worst that southern Africa has experienced for a decade. However, unlike the devastating drought of 1991-92, a variety of factors, ranging from poor rains and floods to regional economic decline and governmental mismanagement, have contributed to the current shortages.

According to recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions in the six affected countries, approximately 1.2 million tonnes of emergency cereal relief will be needed to help around 12.8 million people stave off starvation over the next nine months.

WFP's appeal commits it to providing 67 percent of the region's cereal food aid, which will be targeted primarily at the most vulnerable households - such as families affected by HIV/AIDS and those headed by women, children and the elderly.

While formulating its emergency appeal, WFP took into account its capacity, as well as that of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which also plan to provide food aid. The ability of the region's commercial sector to import large quantities of additional food is of paramount importance and governments must cooperate with the private sector if there is to be enough food to stave off a crisis.

"The magnitude of the crisis demands that everyone rallies together to save people's lives," said Morris. "No single organisation can hope to deal with this crisis on its own."

Already, from June to September, seven million people need food aid, rising to just over 11 million from September to November, and peaking at 12.8 million from December until March 2003. Until now, WFP has been targeting 4.6 million people.

WFP warned that these numbers could easily rise as the crisis becomes more acute, requiring the agency to enlarge its appeal. Over the next few months, teams of experts will closely monitor the region's food security. The current figures are based on a number of assumptions on issues such as expected commercial food imports, effective government agricultural policies, winter harvest production, and affordable maize supplies. The food security situation in Namibia is being analysed, while the threat of another El Nino phenomenon is under continuous watch.

Each of the six countries has been affected by different problems and to a different degree. However, the severity of the overall situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the region is afflicted with high levels of chronic malnutrition and with the highest prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the world.

Coupled with rising levels of poverty and a succession of poor harvests, southern Africa finds itself facing a potential calamity.

Many donors have already recognized this and have contributed to WFP's previous appeals in southern Africa: United States (US$42 million), EC ($9.6 million), United Kingdom ($3.4 million), Germany ($4.1 million), Sweden ($4 million), Japan ($3.1 million), Australia ($2.4 million), Canada ($780,000), Finland ($675,000), Switzerland ($840,000), Ireland ($281,000), South Korea ($150,000), South Africa ($105,000), Israel ($4,000). These donations have already been accounted for in this latest appeal.

However, new donations are urgently required. It is vital to preposition enough supplies before October when the region's rainy season starts, when many rural areas will be rendered inaccessible. As part of WFP's role as overall logistics coordinator, the agency's strategy calls for one month's supply of food in country, two months in port and one more en route.

Once the food aid arrives, WFP will rely heavily on its implementing partners - including World Vision, Care, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and many others - to distribute it. In three countries, NGOs have already organized themselves into consortia, which will allow for a more coordinated and effective response to the crisis. There has already been much positive reaction to the work of the NGO consortium in Malawi and its success will hopefully be replicated elsewhere.

"Fortunately, the international community has already begun to respond to the crisis," said Morris. "However, a lot more needs to be done if the region is not going to have a disaster on its hands. We still have the chance to avert a major humanitarian calamity. But we must act now!"

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Trevor Rowe
WFP Chief Spokesperson
Tel. +39-06-65132602

Brenda Barton
WFP Regional Information Officer
WFP Johannesburg
Tel. +27-11-5171656
Cell. phone +254-733-528912

Christiane Berthiaume
Public Affairs Officer
WFP Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564

Abby Spring
Public Affairs Officer
WFP-New York
Tel. +1-917-3029325